President Obama talks tax debate

This week, the President outlined aspects of the proposed tax agreement that he feels will benefit the middle class and help strengthen the economy. Addressing concerns from congressional Democrats, President Obama reiterated his motivation for carrying on with the proposed deal despite concerns over tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans:

“Now, I recognize that many of my friends in my own party are uncomfortable with some of what’s in this agreement, in particular the temporary tax cuts for the wealthy. I share their concerns. I don’t like those tax cuts either. It’s clear that over the long run, if we’re serious about balancing the budget, we can’t continue to afford these tax breaks for the wealthiest taxpayers – especially when we know that cutting the deficit is going to demand sacrifice from everyone. That’s the reality.

But at the same time, we can’t allow the middle class in this country to be caught in the political crossfire of Washington. People want us to find solutions, not score points. And I will not allow middle class families to be treated like pawns on a chessboard.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has a been a leading voice of opposition, using yesterday as a chance to issue a preemptive filibuster-like presentation on the floor of the Senate. Senator Sanders literally spoke from day to night, but here are his beginning remarks:

Democrats opposed to this agreement are now tasked with the responsibility of finding a better alternative that has enough votes to pass the House and Senate. With the Bush Tax Cuts set to expire at the end of this year, the issue appears to be whether critics can devise a better plan that, not only protects the middle class and extends unemployment benefits, but also strips away unwanted concessions (i.e., tax cuts for the wealthy and concerns regarding the Estate Tax). Supporters of the current agreement doubt such a better plan is possible. Furthermore, supporters suggest that, if this debate persists beyond December 31st, the question remains whether it is realistic to believe Democrats could get a better deal next year when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives.

Supporters of the compromise argue that political realities belie claims of a better solution. They further argue that, with little time remaining in the lame-duck session of Congress, coupled with several high-profile issues yet to be settled (such as the New START Treaty and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), legislators must take swift action to avoid the potential for a stalemate. Failure to come up with a viable alternative, supporters argue, amounts to little more than political theatre.

Former president, Bill Clinton, met with President Obama yesterday to discuss the tax issue and address the press:

President Clinton discussed a difference between his troubles in 1994 and the issue facing President Obama today:

“The story line is how we worked with the Republicans and all that. But you know, we played political Kabuki for a year, had two government shutdowns; we can’t afford that now. The only reason we could do that is that the deficit was already coming down in a time when interest rates were the problem and the economy was coming back – people just didn’t feel it in ’94.

We can’t afford that. We have got to pull together and both sides are gonna have to eat some things they don’t like because we cannot afford to have the kind of impasse that we had last time over a long period of time. We – we don’t want to slip back into a recession. We gotta keep this thing going and accelerate its pace. I think this [the current agreement] is the best available option.”

And now, President Obama’s Weekly Address:

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